Shaping functional architecture by oscillatory alpha activity: gating by inhibition

Front Hum Neurosci. 2010 Nov 4:4:186. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00186. eCollection 2010.


In order to understand the working brain as a network, it is essential to identify the mechanisms by which information is gated between regions. We here propose that information is gated by inhibiting task-irrelevant regions, thus routing information to task-relevant regions. The functional inhibition is reflected in oscillatory activity in the alpha band (8-13 Hz). From a physiological perspective the alpha activity provides pulsed inhibition reducing the processing capabilities of a given area. Active processing in the engaged areas is reflected by neuronal synchronization in the gamma band (30-100 Hz) accompanied by an alpha band decrease. According to this framework the brain could be studied as a network by investigating cross-frequency interactions between gamma and alpha activity. Specifically the framework predicts that optimal task performance will correlate with alpha activity in task-irrelevant areas. In this review we will discuss the empirical support for this framework. Given that alpha activity is by far the strongest signal recorded by EEG and MEG, we propose that a major part of the electrophysiological activity detected from the working brain reflects gating by inhibition.

Keywords: alpha; effective connectivity; electroencephalography; functional connectivity; gamma; magnetoencephalography.